United Methodist annual conferences often open with a hymn that asks whether the gathered have survived another year. Voices echo throughout auditoriums as clergy and laity affirm that the God who has called them in shared ministry has brought them together safely again. That hymn restates the words of Psalm 66: “Bless our God, O peoples, let the sound of [God’s] praise be heard, who has kept us among the living, and has not let our feet slip.”
Those words, so appropriate for an annual conference gathering, also state our reality as God’s people when we gather for weekly worship. Someone, no doubt, has received an unwelcome medical diagnosis. A woman has been trying for months without success to find a job. A teenager has been arrested, and he fears how it will impact his future. A couple, realizing that they can no longer live independently, are grieving as they consider where they should go. Even if these times of exile are not named during the service or around the coffee urn, almost everyone in the congregation bears some burden into the door of the church and carries it out again after the benediction.
Psalm 66 affirms, however, that God wills abundant life for God’s people. God is moving in the world bringing love and justice, particularly to those who are on the margins of life. We are called into partnership with God as bearers of love. As much as we want to relieve the burdens of our neighbors, sometimes our efforts simply cannot do so. Sometimes we can only offer a quiet presence and willingness to listen. At those times, perhaps it is enough to tell the stories of exile and restoration again, to remind each other that God sustains us through grace, and to give thanks.
O God, teach me to listen and to be present as a bearer of your life-giving love. Amen.
Through Jeremiah, God sends a message to the people in exile: They are to seek good for the city of Babylon, their new home. God will bless the city and in doing so will bless God’s people. The psalmist encourages the people to praise God with songs recounting past challenges through which God’s powerful deeds have brought them. This can be encouragement for those currently experiencing difficulties. In Second Timothy, Paul encourages his protégé to endure suffering if necessary. In fact, Timothy should expect to experience resistance. Although the apostle is in chains, the word of God is powerful and can never be chained. The story in Luke reminds us of a basic truth: We should remember to show gratitude to God for answered prayers.
Read Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7. When have you experienced physical or metaphorical exile? How has God helped you to thrive in your Babylon?
Read Psalm 66:1-12. Recall a time of division in your family or community of faith. How did God bring you individually and collectively to a spacious place?
Read 2 Timothy 2:8-15. How do you remember Christ in your actions toward others?
Read Luke 17:11-19. What boundaries keep you from full wellness that can be found in Jesus Christ?
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